Throughout the embattled environment of the colonial Americas—above and below the equator—portraits served as potent symbols of political and social power. The Brooklyn Museum's strong holdings of Spanish colonial art afford an unusual opportunity to study American colonial portraiture on the broadest possible level. Portraits of the historical kings of the Inca dynasty of Peru—including this eighteenth-century example—were a type that originated in the context of the vying powers of native and Spanish rule in the city of Cuzco. Native artists in that city, the ancient highland center of Inca culture and a native stronghold throughout the colonial period, began producing the type about 1600 for Spanish patrons, adopting a European portrait mode but adding native facial characteristics and indigenous costumes for authenticity. Although these portraits were in a sense inventions—there were no actual historical likenesses on which they could have been based—they nevertheless served to "document" for the Spanish the powerful dynasty vanquished by the Conquest in 1541. At the same time, they were commissioned and prized by Cuzco's surviving Inca aristocracy, for whom they represented an illustrious and royal heritage. Because they reinforced the notion of Inca power, portraits of the native kings were banned and destroyed after the outbreak of Inca rebellions in the 1780s. After the demise of Spanish rule in 1824, surviving examples such as these became highly valued tourist souvenirs; the group of fourteen in the Museum's collection was collected by the Dutch-descended New Yorker Frederic de Peyster.
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